A Light to All People – January 3, 2021
Isaiah 9:1, 6-7, Luke 2:22-35
January 3, 2021
In this story for today, I’m struck by the unexpected nature of what happened – as if that whole angels and shepherds thing wasn’t unexpected enough! But the more I read it, the more I see that everything about this story of Jesus was unexpected. It was unexpected in the lives of those who lived it, and it was unexpected in the world in which it happened.
In this story, Mary and Joseph were in the Temple in Jerusalem for the dedication of their newborn son. That was a ceremony like our baptism. And as that ceremony was happening, they met this man named Simeon. As Luke tells us, Simeon was a man who God promised would see the Messiah in his lifetime! If you think about it, that’s a very cool promise! Just think about all the people who wanted to see the Messiah in their lifetime! But we’re told that God had made that promise to this man! So, Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms, and he says to God, “Now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen thy salvation!”
What were Mary and Joseph thinking when they heard that? Did they think, “Yeah, that’s right, Simeon!” No, I have to think this man and his words come “out of the blue.” And it doesn’t say it here, but I think this was yet another of the things that Mary “kept and pondered in her heart.”
This was unexpected! And as I said, that could be said of the whole story of Jesus. The whole story of his salvation was unexpected. It came out of the blue! And oh yes, it had been foretold. It had been prophesied. And the people had been waiting for it – longing for it – for hundreds of years! But when it finally came, they couldn’t have imagined it happening the way it did!
Last week, we looked at the “prologue” of John’s Gospel. We talked then about how he saw the coming of Jesus into the world as a “light shining in the darkness.” But I think that light in the darkness was an unexpected light! It was a light shining suddenly in the darkness! It was like a light someone turned on that you didn’t know they were going to turn on, rather than a light you asked somebody to turn on, or you turned on yourself.
Years ago, I was on a trip with my friend and his wife from Kansas, and we were staying at a ski lodge. And the first night we were there, they had gone to sleep before me. And when I came in, I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, and I noticed there was an electrical outlet above the sink. And, according to electrical code, it was a GFCI outlet – you know, the kind with the little “test” and “reset” buttons in the middle of it? Well, the little “reset” button was popped out. So, being the son of an electrical engineer, I pushed it in. But what I didn’t realize – until a few seconds later, when I heard my friends groan and yell – was that the lights in the room where they were sleeping were on that circuit! It suddenly got very bright in there! That was a light shining in the darkness that was unexpected!
I believe the coming of Christ into the world was like that. It was an unexpected light! And as I said, that unexpected way God often works is how this whole story of salvation happened. I think about that when I read Simeon’s words. “My eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all people!” That’s the real unexpected part! Everything about this Christmas story is about “all people.” Think of the angel’s words to the shepherds. “Behold I bring you good news of a great joy that shall be to all people!”
And Simeon gets pretty specific here. “All people” sounds nice. But then he goes on to say, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” That had to be shocking to hear that day! “The Gentiles!” And remember, they were in the Temple in Jerusalem! All the priests were there, and they heard that! And that had to make them squirm! They had “institutionalized” the religious “exclusivity” of Israel!
The coming of the light of Christ “to all people,” was unexpected. And I think the coming of the light of Christ into our lives can also be unexpected! And it often is. It may have been that way for you! God often touches us in ways we aren’t expecting.
This is now the first Sunday of a new year. And this is a time I like to ask you to think about the beginnings of your faith. What was it like when you first thought seriously about this Jesus? What was it like, the first time he touched your life? Was it unexpected?
I was chatting recently with an old trumpet player friend of mine from High School. And we were recalling the days when he and I could really play. You’ve heard me blow my horn and toot out some tunes here over the years, and it’s been ok. But there was a time I could really play! And because I could play, I was asked to play for a music group in another church in the area. Another of our trumpet player friends had asked me, because they needed a horn player who could hit the high notes.
So, I did. I went and I played for that group. And it was through that church group that I began to understand the importance of my faith. And yes, I had grown up in the church. I was going to youth group – the whole nine yards! But the actual understanding of faith in Jesus, I hadn’t gotten that yet. I hadn’t seen his light in my life until that time. And I wasn’t expecting it! And if I hadn’t been asked to play in that group, I sometimes wonder if I would have.
Maybe you have a similar story. God often works in ways that are unexpected. Think about Moses standing before the burning bush. That was unexpected. And the unexpected is sometimes hard for us people. Because we like to be in control. We like to be “masters of our own destiny,” even though sometimes we’re not very good at it! There was a popular phrase that came out a number of years ago. Maybe you remember it. It said, “Let go and let God.” That’s hard for us, isn’t it? Because often the way God works is unexpected!
The way Jesus came into this world was unexpected. And maybe as we think about that, we can see just a hint of that in the idea of Jesus coming again! It has been promised to us that he would return. And again, it’s been foretold, it’s been prophesied. But, it’s also now been hundreds, even thousands of years! And maybe we wonder sometimes if it ever will happen.
Well, one thing we can be sure of, is that when it does happen it will be in a way that is unexpected. Jesus told us that. He talked about it as being like a “thief in the night.” He described it as being like it was in the time of Noah, when everyone was going about their business, and living their “normal lives,” and then the floods came.
During Advent, I talked about the air of expectancy in the world at the time Jesus was born. Something was going to happen, but they didn’t know what. I think maybe that will be the case with the second Advent – the second coming of Christ. And as we await that time, I think we need to live our lives expecting the unexpected. We need to remember that his coming will be unexpected. We need to be open to the unexpected ways God is working in the world and in our lives. And we need to know that the light of Christ that shines in the world, shines through us!
Eternal God, we are amazed by your love for us and for the whole world. Help us to be open to the ways you are working in the world. Help us to be aware of how you touch our lives, and how your light shines through us. Help us to draw closer to you this new year, and to have the strength to be your people. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.